Ryanair, which bills itself as “Europe’s only ultra-low fare airline,” is carrying on its battle with Norwegian authorities to the country’s highest court. It’s appealing an earlier appeals court decision to hear the case of a former Ryanair flight attendant, claiming that the matter has no business in a Norwegian court.
The case involves flight attendant Alessandra Cocca’s complaint that she was wrongly dismissed after she’d reported that the head of cabin crew on board a flight smelled of alcohol. Cocca has also revealed detailed accounts of what it’s like to work for Ryanair, likening their employment agreements to “slave contracts,” a charge that Ryanair officials strongly deny.
Cocca was based in Norway, at Ryanair’s hub at the Rygge airport south of Moss. Both she and a Norwegian labour organization that’s backing her, Parat, claim that Ryanair must comply with Norwegian work regulations, and won a victory when the appeals court known as Borgarting lagmannsrett agreed to hear the case.
Ryanair and its high-profile chief executive Michael O’Leary maintain that they are only answerable to Irish law, since Cocca was hired by a consulting firm based in Ireland, pays tax to Ireland and works on board Irish-registered aircraft. They’ve hired Norwegian law firm Haavind to plead their case at the highest level.
News bureau NTB reported Tuesday that Haavind wrote in its filings with the Supreme Court that the appeals court erred in its handling of Cocca’s case, “which in Ryanair’s view must make its decision (to hear her case) invalid.” As O’Leary claimed at a press conference in Oslo earlier this month, the judge in the case should, in the airline’s view, have been disqualified because she formerly worked for trade union federation LO and LO is linked to Cocca’s complaint. Judge Kristin Robberstad thus had a conflict of interest, claims Ryanair, and should never have heard Cocca’s case.
Ryanair also claims that Cocca must file her lawsuit against the airline in Ireland, where the airline is based.
Vegard Einan of Parat, which is supporting Cocca’s complaint, told news bureau NTB that he’s actually glad Ryanair is appealing the appeals court decision, because the Supreme Court thus can establish legal procedure for conflicts within international aviation for the first time.
“The Supreme Court’s handling will, regardless of its outcome, have consequences, “not just in Norway but in all of Europe,” Einan said.
Cocca’s lawsuit against Ryanair can end up going through three separate rounds in court, first on the question of whether Norwegian courts can hear her case, then which laws apply to Ryanair (Norwegian or Irish) and then the actual nature of Cocca’s complaint as to whether she was wrongly dismissed.
Einan believes that a victory for Cocca and the union Parat can mean the end for what he calls Ryanair’s ability to exploit a loophole in the European aviation industry. “If Parat wins, it will be a victory for fair competition, in a world where it earlier has paid off to ignore national laws at the expense of serious airlines,” Einan told NTB.
O’Leary has scoffed at such remarks, insisting his airline is serious indeed and, in his opinion, much smarter and more efficient than its rivals. O’Leary has called consumer advocates in Norway “idiots,” mocked Norwegian politicians and, not least, rival carriers, especially Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), and suggested that airport workers and officials in Norway are lazy. He calls landing fees in Norway “absurdly” high, believes Norwegian workers are overpaid and claims that Ryanair’s Norwegian passengers “love” the airline.